Extreme Cinema! “I’d Buy That For a Dollar!”

Tonight, we discuss the selected work of Paul Verhoeven, from 1983’s De Vierde Man to his most recent movie, Elle, which earned Isabelle Huppert an Academy Award nomination in 2016.

The credits appear to be a fly caught in a web, interspersed with images of Christ on the crucifix. A spider catches the fly and rolls him up for a late snack. Regan watched the opening title with me; she was fascinated. She asked me what it meant, and bluffing, I told her it was symbolism. What do you think? Jeroen Krabbe doesn’t seem to age. This is an early movie, and he still looks the same today. He seems racked with guilt. I wonder if he’s a priest. He’s got a lot of religious crap in his house. Holy crap, he’s not wearing underwear. I just saw his dick! I didn’t need to see his dick.

In Robocop, from the start, we’re inundated with media; a news report interrupted by a commercial for fabricated transplant organs, and then we go back to the news where the report is about the rising tide of violent crime. Next up, we’re at a police precinct with a scumbag lawyer bitching about his scumbag client’s rights. The acting is very “big” here, and we see a rare glimpse of Peter Weller without all the makeup, appliances, and armaments he would soon wear for not only this but two sequels. It’s interesting that in the midst of all the yelling and the big acting, Weller maintains his typical cool composure. 

Total Recall comes from Studio Canal, Tri Star Pictures, and Carolco; on a budget of $65 million dollars, Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox – this is such an over-the-top movie, even more than Robocop, which is saying something, even the titles are insane. We start on the red planet – Mars, extending us a welcome! It’s a very nice process shot. This is Arnold and Rachel holding hands, looking longingly at each other – he falls down a cliff, breaks his helmet and just as his head is about to explode, he wakes up, and he’s in bed with Sharon Stone. Total Recall is the movie that made her career, remember? I won’t lie; she’s fucking hot in this movie, but I’m more of a Rachel-guy, I have to say. We’re in the future; it’s not that similar a future to Robocop. 

Elle begins with a rape, and it sounds incredibly brutal. When we fade up, we see the rapist wipe himself off and exit. They are surrounded by broken objects, including a couple of wine glasses, which is interesting. In the aftermath, she has a black eye and a swollen lip. She seems nonplussed. Does she not report this? It seems like she doesn’t. Huppert plays (what I believe is) a computer game designer or programmer. She runs the company. She’s very bossy (I hate to use the word, because I know the ladies hate it) and aggressive. She gets a physical and an STD panel. Somebody just dumps their food on her, calls her “scum.” What the Hell?

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:47:52

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Vintage Cable Box: Of Unknown Origin, 1983

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“Watch and weep, you furry fucker.”

Of Unknown Origin, 1983 (Peter Weller), Warner Bros.

1983 was the year of the yuppie. The unusual, one-line Google search engine description defines “yuppie” as a well-paid young middle-class professional who works in a city job and has a luxurious lifestyle. The term, being coined in 1982 by Joseph Epstein, points to the rise of baby-boomers finding employment (usually along executive, financial, and administrative lines) in the big cities; many of them living there, but others succumbing to the phenomena of white flight, the grand mass-exodus of white people to the suburbs when inner-city crime and racial tension was at an all time high. Peter Weller’s Bart Hughes is the test-case of encroaching yuppiedom in New York City (although expertly shot in Montreal).

Living with his wife, Meg (Playmate Shannon Tweed, in her first film), and their son, Peter, in a renovated brownstone, his apartment is astonishingly beautiful, tastefully decorated, with lots of space.  Bart has his sights set on a raise and promotion which will enable him to buy the apartment, and from the beginning of the film, he is depicted as straightlaced, clean-shaven, rocking suits and ties, and glad-handing everybody he comes across (but also, strangely, obsessive-compulsive as my wife observed).  His wife and child take off for a vacation and leave Daddy in the big city to make the money.  This movie is a kind-of Seven Year Itch but with a pesky rodent subbing for Marilyn Monroe.

It only takes a couple of days for Weller to lose the fragile grip he thought he possessed with regard to his controlled world.  It turns out he has a rodent problem.  Contacting exterminators proves futile, as the city is overrun.  With the help of his Super, he starts doing his own research, and in a very interesting scene (a dinner party with guests chewing on Cornish hen), he disgusts attendees with admittedly interesting factoids about rats, about the diseases they spread, about the food they consume.  The scene is revealing to me because the director, George P. Cosmatos, and screenwriter Brian Taggert, are obviously citing parallels between rats and yuppies.

Earlier this month, I chose to watch and review another horror movie about rats called Deadly Eyes.  Compared to Deadly Eyes, Of Unknown Origin is a virtual masterpiece of form.  Deadly Eyes is absolutely dreadful and silly, mainly because the visual representation of the monster in question looks so damned silly.  Little dogs, covered with “rat-like” fur but wiggling and moving like dogs.  As if the obsessive Weller at the end of his rope isn’t enough, we have more parallels; as in when he pounds on his ceiling with a thick copy of Melville’s Moby Dick.

The very beautiful Ms. Shannon Tweed.

By the final third of the film, Weller has completely lost it.  His work is suffering.  He earns the sympathy of his secretary, the ire of his rivals, and the befuddlement of his boss.  He constructs a torture and killing device out of a baseball bat, and he becomes completely obsessed with the idea of destroying the rat, even at the cost of his apartment and sanity.  He learns the logic of his enemy, and he revises his attack, eventually emerging victorious.  The movie reminds me of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) wherein our protagonist must dispense with his own logic in order to survive his ordeal.  This is such a fun popcorn movie, and Weller (as my wife noted, a child of James Woods and Jeff Goldblum in his unique mannerisms) is immensely entertaining to watch.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release (Canadian release – the paper is flimsy and oil-stained, I’ve noted this on the Canadian videos).  Also released on Beta, this movie did not have a release on Laserdisc, but it was produced for DVD.  As of this writing, the movie has not yet been released on Blu Ray,  The accompanying essay claims, “If it can’t scare them to death, it will find another way!”  The essay calls the movie, “… provocative and shocking suspense …”  Next time, we wrap up Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage with Drew Barrymore in Mark Lester’s Firestarter from 1984.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.